The contra dance group that I was a part of (and still consider myself a part of even though I don’t go) was a highly relational group. Contra dance (sometimes known as country dance) is designed to encourage a broad variety of relationships rather than focusing on a narrow group.
For most dances, dancer are paired in couples. This does lead to deeper relationships between dance “partners.” However, the custom of this culture is that persons change partners throughout the course of the night. This means that on any given night, I might dance with 5 to 8 different women (usually women, although same gendered dancing was not unheard of). These “partnerships” allowed for close interaction, and social conversation between dances.
At the same time, the structures of the dances involves figures that have each couple dance with a variety of couples in the course of the dance. Thus, in any given dance, with any given song, 20 or 30 people might be interacting with one another, physically, emotionally, and socially. In the course of a night, during a large dance weekend, it would be possible to have interaction of some sort with 50 to 75 people.
What is interesting about these interactions is that a form of etiquette has been created for the dance culture. These rules allow for sponteneity and emotional connection, even a degree of flirtiness between both singles and maried folks, but create boundaries which keep the relationships safe. Men can hold women closely and look into their eyes as a part of the dance, while understanding that this connection doesn’t necessarily have any deeper connotations. The rules provide a framework for safe interactions, which can then go deeper or stay at the surface.
One of the problems that arises in congregations is the lack of rules for social interaction. We encourage people to interact and deep and personal levels, but without any safety net that they will be protected from falling. Folks are unclear about the boundaries of the relationships. So, they either put up their won boundaries that are difficult to penetrate, or they share too much of themselves, and find themselves out on the edge, abused, and burned out.
What would it be like for a congregation to establish clear rules for how we interact with one another?